Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem
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Long school day, ASD Nest program for autistic children
Many applicants for kindergarten
Little is left to chance in this structured, tidy school: Books in baskets all face in the same direction, just like the children, who sit with straight backs, hands folded, and all eyes on the teacher, a practice called "tracking." "Scholars" wear uniforms and walk through hallways in boy and girl lines.
Academics start early and the day is long. Yet it doesn't feel overly rigid: Kindergartners move in and out of groups, and 2-3 times a week spend time in a spacious "learning lab" with blocks, standing easels, puppets, costumes, and toy "stores." In class, they work with math "manipulatives" such as snap cubes, shapes, and fraction tiles.
Students at Neighborhood Charter School study science daily, unusual in elementary school, and share their classrooms with turtles, fish, hermit crabs, a bunny and potted plants. First-graders learn to type. Fourth-graders read 10 novels, in depth, as a class, in addition to books they choose. Starting in 4th grade, they study Spanish 5 days a week.
Scholars receive points, stickers, extra gym or other rewards for following routines. The language and structure seem a little stilted at times, but it seems to work—we watched a grumpy kindergartner roll his eyes, sigh, yank out his chair, then quickly settle down to solve a math problem, merging into the quiet order around him.
"We believe in structure, and I'm unapologetic about that," said Principal Brett Gallini.
The kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms are located at West 145th Street in a former church and school. Grades 2-5 will continue to meet at the school's flagship location on West 124th Street until a new building is ready in 2017 in District 6.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Neighborhood Charter has made it a priority to serve children with special needs. There are three team-teaching classes on each grade; two are small and incorporate four children who have ASD (autism spectrum disorder). The third class is larger and mixes children with a variety of special needs and their general education peers. Some children meet in a small room with a speech therapist for "social club," to practice social skills. "We have seen huge growth with our ASD kids," said Gallini. "Kids who couldn't look me in the eye are now having back-and-forth conversations."
ADMISSIONS: The school offers tours from January to March. There are typically 1,000 applicants for 60 kindergarten seats. They fill empty seats that open in all grades. (Lydie Raschka, October 2015; updated August 2016)Read more